In baseball there is a sweeping clause that allows the commissioner to do whatever is in the best interest of the game. If the NBA has such a mandate then Adam Silver should invoke it to put whichever two playoff-caliber teams in the Darwinian Western Conference (looking at you, New Orleans and Phoenix) get shut out of the final postseason berth in the West into the playoffs in the uninspired East.
Remember the “Wayne’s World” skit on “Saturday Night Live” where Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would repeat, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy” over and over? Wednesday night was a vivid display of we’re not playoff-worthy basketball between your Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, the two teams who entered the night occupying the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively, in the underwhelming East.
After Miami tried its best to blow a 20-point fourth-quarter lead, the Heat walked out of TD Garden with a 93-86 victory over the Celtics. The 18,624 Parishioners of the Parquet should have walked out realizing that while the Celtics (31-40) are tied with Indiana for the final playoff berth in the East, they’re not really a playoff team.
This has been an eminently enjoyable Celtics season. The team plays hard (oddly, it didn’t for the first three quarters of this one). They play unselfish basketball. Rookie Marcus Smart terrorizes opposing guards with his defense. It’s fun to root for a guy named Gigi. Coach Brad Stevens has established himself as one of the few real Beethovens of the bench in the league.
But the Celtics, now 11-9 after the All-Star break, haven’t made as much progress toward a post-New Big Three restoration as their serious playoff contention would suggest. Like a funhouse mirror, the sad state of the Eastern Conference has distorted the Celtics’ appearance.
The Celtics entered the Miami game just 8-25 against teams above .500, which shouldn’t have been a problem because the Heat came to Causeway Street sporting a 32-38 mark.
This was a game for the Celtics that evoked the famous philippic from then-Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora about his team making the playoffs.
If you’re a playoff team, even in the dilapidated Eastern Conference, you have to play better than the Celtics did on Wednesday night. This team’s best attribute is its effort. No one is going to confuse the roster with the 1986 Celtics.
So, it was disappointing that Boston hit the snooze button for the first three quarters Wednesday night, inexplicable considering it is in the thick of a playoff race.
Miami was reeling after losing on a buzzer-beater to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night, and undermanned. The Heat were missing Dwyane Wade (left knee contusion), center Hassan Whiteside (gash between his middle and ring fingers), and center Chris Andersen (calf). Miami was trotting out such luminaries as rookies Tyler Johnson and James Ennis. The Celtics were getting back diminutive dynamo Isaiah Thomas, who had missed the last eight games with a lower-back bruise.
The Celtics trailed, 82-62, after three quarters, had allowed Miami to shoot 51.7 percent from the field, and score 30 points in the paint. The Celtics were laying out a red carpet to the rim for the Heat. There was no playoff urgency or intensity from the men in green, only haze and malaise.
“For the first 2½ quarters I didn’t think we played, and that’s the frustrating part,” said Stevens.
The third quarter was actually a better effort for the Celtics than the first half.
The Heat were wearing red, but it was the Celtics that were playing matador in the first half, allowing Miami to shoot 60 percent from the field, score 20 points in the paint, and take a 57-40 halftime lead.
You know it’s bad when the artist formerly known as Bill Walker — the former Celtic goes by Henry Walker now — is raining threes. Walker had 9 points at halftime and scored all 12 of his points in the game on 3-pointers.
A perturbed Stevens was forced to call a timeout with 1:27 left in the half after Goran Dragic (a game-high 22 points and seven assists) sashayed to the basket for a layup to make it 52-38, Heat.
The only good news was that the Heat had blown a 16-point fourth-quarter lead to the Bucks the night before. True to form, Miami, which led by as many as 22 in the third, tried to give this game away like it was a box of old baby clothes in the fourth.
The Heat shot just 3 of 17 from the floor in the fourth quarter and looked panicked and frantic.
Stevens has pushed all the right buttons this season. He almost did it again.
The Boston fourth-quarter lineup that jumpstarted the comeback was Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Luigi “Gigi” Datome, who played a grand total of 39 seconds in the first three quarters. Jae Crowder, who scored a team-high 16 points, replaced Olynyk with 6:05 left in the quarter.
The Celtics got within 6 with 1:59 to go on a Pressey lay-in, but they tried to jack up 3-pointers.
Miami escaped with the win and the Celtics slinked away into the night with a lesson in hoops humility.
“Yeah, we didn’t bring it tonight,” said Thomas, who struggled in his return. “That group that was in during the fourth quarter, they got us back in the game and gave us a chance to win. But other than that it was an embarrassment.”
If somehow the discussion of a playoff berth deluded the Green into thinking they’re better than they are, then this loss was a shot of reality that should inoculate them over their final 11 games.
There are going to be teams rewarded with a playoff berth due to mediocrity by geography. The Celtics should be one of them.
But it’s going to be by default.